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Developers gear up for opening of The Morton in heart of downtown Grand Rapids

With only one month until The Morton’s official opening date, Rockford Construction’s Vice President of Real Estate Development Mike Mraz says he looks forward to the project’s completion as the last piece of the puzzle for downtown Grand Rapids’ core redevelopment. 

“We’ve been active in downtown real estate redevelopment for over 15 years and to see the vast number of changes that have occurred in the city center in that time period is really remarkable, especially with a recession in the middle of that,” says Mraz, whose firm began initial cleanup work on the building in December 2013.

Originally opened in 1972 as the Morton Hotel after the former National Hotel was destroyed by a fire, the hotel was remodeled in the 1970s to become the 220-unit Morton House Apartments, which closed in 2011.

The developers bought the 170,000-square-foot building at the end of 2011 for $5.8 million, receiving funding in part from the Downtown Development Authority, who awarded Rockford Construction Co. with a $50,000 building reuse grant for the renovation of the facade, a $35,000 grant to help fill the areaway, and another $35,000 grant for a new sidewalk and streetscape work along Ionia Avenue.

Additionally, the DDA agreed to reimburse Rockford partners 75 percent of the tax revenue the building will generate, which over the next decade totals out at $1.5 million. The Brownfield Redevelopment Authority also chipped in, providing a no-interest loan of $400,000 for the remediation work — asbestos removal and other cleanup — from its U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated Revolving Loan Fund.

With a fourth floor outdoor courtyard and an approximately 500-square-foot indoor space for residents to exercise and bathe their pets, The Morton will also feature amenities like a 24-hour fitness center and an exclusive discounted membership to the nearby MVP.

Originally 13 stories, Rockford Construction developers added a 14th floor to house luxury condominiums, with the lower levels featuring 25,000 square feet of commercial space and the second floor a handful of apartment units and other building amenities. The third floor has 15,000 square feet of commercial office space, and the remaining floors are all reserved for residential units. 

“There’s an indoor community room so people can host an event or a birthday party or anything there and that’s coordinated through our staff.” Mraz says. “We have the indoor pet play area and wash area and I think that’s going to be really popular. We’re attracting people with pets already and that was quite a nice amenity they mentioned by name and partially the reason they wanted to live there.”

Expected to draw 175-200 new residents who will live, dine, and shop at The Morton, Mraz says the new mixed-use is the perfect topper to a decade of redevelopment that is dramatically changing the city’s urban core. 

“So, seeing this building’s redevelopment as really the last piece of the puzzle — it’s not only just a building, but it’s more than that. It’s bringing that level of critical mass that is needed to keep a street like Monroe Center active and engaged,” he says.

For more information on The Morton, or to see floor plans for specific apartment styles, visit www.themortongr.com or visit The Morton on Facebook.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Rockford Construction Co. 


Global design strategy consultant ThoughtFull opens new flexible studio space in East Hills

It’s only been a little over two weeks since global design strategy and innovation consultants at ThoughtFull opened the doors to its new Grand Rapids offices, but ThoughtFull Partner Tom DeVries says having a physical location in town has already made an “amazing impact” on how the firm is able to engage with clients on a local level. 

“It’s resulted in an explosion of new business for us locally,” says DeVries, who started Thoughtfull abroad alongside partners Geoff Suvalko and Hudson Smales before opening its second location in the 1,200-square-foot space at 975 Cherry St. SE.

“We wanted a neighborhood that was turning around or had begun the process of turning around and we wanted a neighborhood where businesses were catering to empowering trend behaviors and attitudes,” he says. “Something more progressive; all things we represent to our clients.”

Though the firm first found its footing in the global market working with clients that include Air New Zealand, Amway, Auckland Public Transportation System and World Vision, the partners want to move ThoughtFull forward by working backwards -- that is, by taking their global experience to local clients as part of a larger mission of community revitalization.

With enough workspace to accommodate a roster of research, design and strategy team members that ranges from anywhere between 8-14 strong, DeVries says ThoughtFull's new East Hills office isn't intended to be as much of an office space as it is a studio space, the minimal interior design deliberately chosen to afford total flexibility with how the space is used. 

“The way we think about it is as a blank canvas…We can transition the entire space into something that it’s not right now at a moment’s notice,” he says. 

“For example we might be working on a project where we discover that there’s a challenge between how a retail customer engages on a cell phone and in physical retail store, so what we would do in that circumstance — after having researched human behavior activity and what approaches other businesses are taking — we would create a retail environment where we build prototypes of solutions where we could engage the customer and make the whole thing real in less than a day,” he says. 

By simulating the actual environments in which customers will engage with organizations, ThoughtFull’s approach to building client’s design strategies represents both a practical and philosophical commitment to making things tangible. 

“The knock on design and designers working in business environments is that designers don’t finish things and they don’t make things, they just work in concepts,” DeVries says. “We have a lot of designers on our team, so I wanted to be very explicit with our team and say, ‘We make things, we make ideas reality.’” 

He says ideally, ThoughtFull will find more nearby real estate to expand operations into, allowing the current space to be dedicated exclusively to staging. He also hopes they'll be able to equip the space with tools for building the kind of pseudo retail environments that ultimately arm ThoughtFull with the unique perspectives and insight it has made its name by. 

DeVries says he and his partners see a lot of room for growth in the local market and as a Grand Rapids native, he feels inherently invested in the success of the city’s larger downtown redevelopment and the growth of the region in general.

“There are politics everywhere, but it’s still a small enough community that if you’re doing the right things, people will respond and you can build momentum from there,” he says. “There’s already a momentum building here and it’s an exciting thing to wake up and say, ‘How can we help?’” 

Visit www.thoughtfulldesign.com to learn more. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of ThoughtFull 

Kilwin's downtown GR chocolate kitchen bounces back from February flooding with upgraded space

Kilwin’s Grand Rapids owners Julie and Tim Calderone just did not see it coming.

“It was a water pipe in the ceiling,” says Julie Calderone, who opened the downtown Grand Rapids chocolate kitchen at 146 Monroe Center St. NW just four years ago on the ground floor of the historic McKay Towers. 

“We had pipes literally freeze in the ceiling, so when they ruptured, all of the water from McKay Towers came flooding in and we lost everything,” she says. “Walls, ceiling, floors — everything.”

It’s taken a few months to complete renovations on the 2,210-square-foot retail space, but Kilwin’s is back in business — this time boasting some upgraded interior fixtures and more hand-made confections to choose from than ever before. 

The revamped Kilwin’s will still carry the same breadth of Tillman’s property products they have in the past, only now Calderone says they’ve doubled the store’s fudge selection and allocated more floorspace for their “fudge window,” where customers can look in and watch expert artisans making signature Mackinac Island Fudge on a new 1,100-lb. marble table. 

She says business has really taken off again since Kilwin’s June 30 reopening, partially attributed to their four-month absence, but also, she says, to a very productive convention season in downtown Grand Rapids. 

“Anytime Grand Rapids does something to bring people downtown we do better as a business, so we’re always appreciative of that,” she says. “We’ve just had a really nice welcome back from the community,” Calderone says. “I think the community missed their sweet treats.”

Kilwin’s downtown Grand Rapids location is currently open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and on Sundays from noon to 8 p.m., but hours change seasonally, so visit www.kilwins.com for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Julie Calderone 

Habitat Kent partners with GRCC students to wrap up construction on MI's first LEED Gold v4 home

Dedicated back in April, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County has completed construction on the first home in Michigan to meet new LEED Gold v4 standards from the U.S. Green Building Council located at 730 Oakland Ave. SW. 

“We had a started this process looking at LEED v4 when USGBC was announcing it was going to come out as mandatory within this year,” says Corri Sandwick, a Habitat Kent construction team member and LEED standard specialist. “We started going down his path and then USGBC has delayed the official date until October 2016, but we decided to go ahead to continue to pursue LEED v4.”

In additional to the previous LEED requirements, the updated standards include higher energy, water and resource efficiency standards. Under the new LEED Gold v4 standards, Habitat Kent homes are armed with specific features that reduce carbon footprints; for example, water heaters that use a closed combustion system to pull fresh combustion air in from the outside, reducing the need for fresh air intake and improving efficiency and additional testing measures — including pre-drywall, infra-red camera testing and blower door tests, which help ensure quality of the thermal envelope. 

Brandyn Deckinga is project manager for Habitat Kent’s 730 Oakland Ave. SW project and says the newly certified LEED Gold v4 home was part of the Grand Rapids Community College 100th anniversary build, with the majority of construction led by students studying green construction in the GRCC Tassell M-Tec program. 

“We brought the class, along with their professor, out (to the home) and they did all of the things we do with the volunteers,”  says Deckinga, adding that during the build, students gained more practical experience in learning about sustainable design, the LEED for Homes program and efficient building practices that go beyond typical code-built homes. 

“One of the big parts in making a house energy efficient is the air seal, so we took an extra step and did blower door tests, which basically test how air-tight the home is,” Deckinga says. “With the students, we could look with an infrared camera and a smoke pen to see where the leaks were.”

Though USGBC will not officially launch LEED v4 until October 2016, Deckinga and Sandwick say Habitat Kent plans to continue to certify all new homes using the upgraded standards.

“We want our homeowners to be able to live in our homes comfortably and we want them to be able to live them 40 or 50 years. We want our homes to be safe and energy efficient so they can afford the utilities,” Deckinga says. “…When people stay in their homes, we see that helping the community by people taking ownership of their homes.” 

Click here for more information on LEED v4 standards or visit www.habitatkent.org

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County

Father-son architecture firm brings 'warm contemporary' aesthetic to new west side offices

Over the past year and a half, the father-son team behind Mathison | Mathison Architects has hired five new architects to join the growing firm, recently moving out of a cramped home office and into new downtown Grand Rapids digs at 560 Fifth St. NW, suite 405. 

With nearly 35 years of notable West Michigan projects attached to his name, Principal Tom Mathison formed Mathison | Mathison Architects with his son Evan in October 2013.

“(My son) came to me and said, ‘I want to have my own business, I want to do that here in Grand Rapids and I’d like you and I to work on this together,” Mathison says. “It was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up.”

Prior to creating his new architectural firm, Mathison was a senior principal and the chairman of his previous firm's board of directors, working on big-ticket projects that included the new Civic Theatre, Kent County Courthouse, and the downtown Grand Rapids Federal Building. He has also led projects for K-12 school districts in West Michigan and higher education facilities including Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University, Michigan State University and University of Michigan. 

Also a trained architect, son Evan earned his undergraduate degree at University of Michigan and completed his graduate work at Harvard University, residing in Boston for about eight years before returning to his hometown to work alongside his father. 

“He did some outstanding special projects,” Mathison says, citing the redevelopment of the New York City waterfront, Boston’s downtown greenway and “a whole series of really wonderful residential projects.” 

“He’s pretty widely accomplished — one of his projects was featured on HGTV,” Mathison says. “He brings a lot of really cool skills and aesthetic that we think will resonate here in West Michigan.”

He says there’s a real market for the kind of design Mathison | Mathison prides itself on, which is to say, a style they’ve dubbed “warm contemporary,” using the build site’s natural assets — its relationship to natural light opportunities to take advantage of the sun, for example — to create natural-lit, open spaces that serve as an extension of the outdoors.

“There’s also the transparency between indoor and outdoor spaces — the in-and-out balance — where we’ll open out walls and create large areas of glass to extend the eye past the horizon,” he says, citing a residential space in Silver Lake the firm recently completed for which the design includes tiered walls that retract completely to become an outdoor patio space, complete with its own outdoor kitchen. 

“We are modernists, but we’re not necessarily into styles,” he says. “More so just really clean lines, transparency and the relationship between the building and the existing site.”

Mathison | Mathison architects are currently working on a community living project in downtown Grand Rapids called “The Nest,” which he says his firm has designed for a fairly straightforward functionality, but with careful attention to detail when it comes to sustainable practices. 

“It’s going to be a great project and one that will be kind of emblematic of what’s possible within the given housing stock of West Michigan and Grand Rapids in particular,” he says. “This house will show what’s possible within the existing framework of neighborhoods and communities and that’s one of the things that drew us to this project — the high level of sustainability and the fact that it translates so well to the existing neighborhood there.” 

The architects began moving into their new offices at 560 Fifth St. NW just last week after making a few cosmetic upgrades like natural wood fixtures to complement the abundant natural light the 2,100-square-foot west side space already affords them. 

Though the new offices have opened with a staff roster currently topped at seven, Mathison says they’ve secured room for the addition of anywhere between 12-15 people.

“Our goal is not growth for growth’s sake; we just think there’s a good market for the kind of work we’re doing,” he says. “Our goal is not necessarily to be the biggest firm — I think our growth will just happen sort of organically as we need to meet the demand. Our goal really is to focus on the quality of our design and to do really special projects.” 

For more information, visit Mathison | Mathison Architects online

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Mathison | Mathison Architects 

GR city planners to review new mixed-use development plans from ORES, Concept Design

After officially submitting a project proposal to the city of Grand Rapids last week, developers at Orion Real Estate Solutions are planning one last neighborhood meeting July 23, open to the public and aimed at giving community members another opportunity for discussion about its proposed 47-unit apartment complex at 1 Carlton Ave SE.

“Orion Real Estate Solutions has been evolving and improving the proposed Fulton/Carlton development for more than a year now and based on valuable feedback we’ve received from the neighborhood associations and the city zoning department we feel we’ve hit the mark with a project that improves the neighborhood on many levels,” says Orion Spokesman Jason Wheeler. 

The redevelopment includes the construction of two new buildings — the first a four-story mixed-used building with 3,200 square feet allocated for ground floor retail space and 3,500 square feet for a ground floor restaurant. The second new building will be a three-story, solely residential building slated for new apartment units. 

ORES is working alongside Concept Design to redevelop the new space, and Wheeler says though it is too early to suggest any concrete timeline for construction, ORES hopes to begin this fall pending rezoning approval by the city. 

“If all goes well, this will be the second time we’ve taken vacant land and transformed it into a place to live, work and experience the culture of Eastown,” Wheeler says. “We love what we do as developers and creating a concept that the community embraces is our goal. ORES hopes to deliver a project that acknowledges the community’s input and respects the cares and concerns of the neighborhood.”

For more information, visit www.orionbuilt.com. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of ORES/Concept Design 

Historic Grand Rapids Pike House becomes new home for lawyers at Keller & Almassian

Restored to its former glory by architects at Design Plus back in 2007, the historic Pike House at 230 E. Fulton in Grand Rapids is now home to law firm Keller & Almassian

The two-story, 18,500-square-foot Pike House is on the National Register of Historic Places, its four massive Greek columns first dragged to the site by ox cart from Port Sheldon back in 1844 by the building’s namesake Abram W. Pike.

“A lot of the credit for that goes to the previous owners, Design Plus,” says Todd Almassian, whose firm acquired the property back in October 2013. “They bought the property in 2006 and they did a marvelous job of bringing the property really to its grand status that it has now. They did significant improvements to the interior.”

Its previous office located on East Beltline, Almassian says he and his law firm knew they wanted to look for a new space closer to the city that still afforded them on-site parking and room for future physical growth. 

“The space just really worked out well for us in terms of having plenty of parking on-site. That was a primary concern for us. There was room in the building for growth — that was something we needed,” Almassian says. “It’s right down the street from bankruptcy court and we’re primarily a bankruptcy law firm so that makes it nice in terms of accessibility. We wanted to spend the rest of our careers as downtown attorneys and all of the other aspects associated with that.” 

He says he thinks having a downtown location is beneficial to most businesses and business people simply because it organically facilitates more physical movement, more impromptu conversations with colleagues, a greater sense of community and investment in seeing the downtown thrive. 

“It’s such a vibrant downtown now and everybody is really focusing — both I think personally and professionally — on seeing downtown as a real hub of the greater Grand Rapids area for social and for work. We just found that a relocation would be beneficial for us and it has been.”

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Keller & Almassian, PLC

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Heritage Hill's 162-year-old Pike House restored to grandeur

New owners for Grand Rapids' historic Pike House plan few changes before moving law offices 

The Yoga Studio opens doors to new location in East Hills' Blackport Building

For The Yoga Studio instructor and owner Kat McKinney, leading the transition to a larger studio space was a lot like putting together a puzzle. 

“The space, the location, it's lovely. It reminds me of being up in a little tree fort,” she says. “The one drawback is that it's second floor and it's not accessible.” 

However, after persuading the Blackport Building landlord to install a fully functional lift to make the entire building ADA accessible, McKinney says the final picture was pretty clear: The Yoga Studio had found its new home. 

“I thought, ‘Okay, that's the last piece of the puzzle,’” she says. “It all works out. The universe said go.” 

With a background in physical therapy and a teaching certification in the Iyengar tradition, McKinney was able to equip The Yoga Studio’s new space in 959 Lake Dr. NE with a rope wall, which acts as a tool for a host of exercises, ranging from simply providing a source of extra support for beginners to creating an avenue for more advanced students to explore more complex stretches.

“Overall — in both Grand Rapids and around the country, too — yoga continues to become more and more popular,” says McKinney, who, after a deliberate transition nearly five years in the making, is now the sole owner of The Yoga Studio, taking over for founder Carol Heines. 

“Once, many, many, moons ago, Carol was only the game in town but now there's a studio pretty much on every corner. We’re pretty classic, pretty traditional, in how we function. That has not changed.”

When all is said and done, McKinney says The Yoga Studio’s new space, complete with its rope wall upgrade, serves to support an idea as simple and understated as the tradition practiced within its walls — yes, you can do yoga.

“What we find often is folks who come in and are a little apprehensive because they've tried a class somewhere else and found it was just too much,” McKinney says. “…They’d find us and realize, ‘This is what I've been missing.’ They realize, 'Yes, I can practice yoga.’”

“That’s the best thing ever,” she says. “When someone is thrilled with what they can do because we’ve taken the time to actually provide instruction — we don’t simply lead classes.” 

The Yoga Studio is offering free classes to the public July 6-10 to break in the new space, but will also host an open house on July 24 to show off its new digs to the East Hills community. To learn more about The Yoga Studio, or to learn how you can enroll in free classes, click here or visit The Yoga Studio on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Kat McKinney/The Yoga Studio 

Related articles: 
The Next Generation of Yoga

JGR Real Estate overhauls former Stockbridge pawnshop to create new, modern office space

When Julie Grevengoed first opened JGR Real Estate back in 2009, the second-floor East Hills agency was born into a tricky time for the housing market. 

In the past six years, however, Grevengoed’s real estate and brokerage agency has managed to find its place in Grand Rapids’ residential market and as a result has recently opened its doors in a newly renovated Stockbridge storefront located at 600 Bridge St. NW. 

“I was in East Hills before and I loved it there — it has a great business community and was a great space — but I was outgrowing it,” says Grevengoed, who worked with Wolverine Building Group over the past few months to bring a run-down former pawnshop into the modern age with a massive rehab effort that brightens up its 2,500-square-foot ground floor with an open floor plan, clean lines and big windows. 

With the lease on her former Cherry Street offices up, Grevengoed says she noticed the space within the first 24 hours it was posted. At first glance, it wasn’t much to look at, but she says the building’s original tin ceilings won her over 

“I walked in and it's got these really cool tin ceilings and even though everything wasn't as great, that was something that I thought, 'Man, this could be really cool,” she says. “…It was just one big room when I got it and even though I'm using it as offices, I still wanted to maintain kind of an open feel, so we have a lot of windows.”

She says the residential housing market is in significantly better shape than it was when JGR Real Estate first opened its doors in 2009, and because her agency also includes a brokerage arm, she’s had more agents coming in to work under her license in the past few years.

The new space, she says, opens her agency up to a new residential market on Grand Rapids’ west side and allows for JGR Real Estate to continue to grow more comfortably. 

“I'm excited about this place because I have so much more room,” Grevengoed says. “I was really reserved in trying to ask people to come on board with me because I just didn't have a place to put them, but now I do so that's great.” 

To see before and after photos of the dramatic transformation of its new Bridge Street office space, click here to find JGR Real Estate on Facebook

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of JGR Real Estate 

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Realtor opens East HIlls location; relocates own family from the 'burbs

Well House to open three more houses, expand garden with $475,000 Kellogg grant

Thanks to a three-year, $475,000 grant approved by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation last week, local nonprofit Well House will purchase three more houses to add to its nine existing homes, all dedicated to providing access to affordable housing, healthy food, employment opportunities and community engagement.

Well House purchases vacant, boarded up homes from the Kent County Land Bank Authority and brings them up to code to create shared, low-cost, permanent housing solutions for people who have been living on the streets or in shelters. 

Tami VandenBerg, executive director of Well House, says two of the new homes will be allocated for families at risk of immediate separation. 

"Families that are homeless will often be separated into different shelters or between family members, or children are placed in foster care," she says. "Our goal is to keep families together." 

The remaining house will be the first from Well House allocated specifically for homeless youth, the two major at-risk groups being those aging out of foster care and LGBT youth. 

"What a lot of youth has done before is just find someone who would take them in, and unfortunately, those aren't always the healthiest situations," VandenBerg says. "I'm hopeful that this will help avoid some situations where they might not be safe." 

With five existing plots for food-growing in downtown Grand Rapids, a portion of the grant will also go to expanding the Well House Urban Farm and creating new employment opportunities for tenants working on the farm and helping with the rehabilitation of new housing. 

VandenBerg says Well House's "housing first" model is an evidence-based approach to solving homelessness, championing the idea that a homeless individual or household's first and primary need is stable housing. 

Since VandenBerg became executive director of Well House in January 2013, 68 people have been moved out of homelessness and into permanent housing. Eighty-eight percent of those individuals have remained at Well House or located other housing of their choice. 

At $275 per month for a single room, Well House has a waiting list of anywhere between 40-45 applicants and has received more than 320 applications in the past two years alone. 

"I think the biggest change I've seen in the last 10 or 20 years is that we're talking about it a lot right now," VandenBerg says. "Back in the day, when I started out, we really just weren't talking about it much. It was certainly an issue, but we just sent everybody to the bridge and if they were full everyone was just out of luck. The really good news is that this issue is on the radar." 

For more information, visit www.wellhousegr.org. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Well House 

Peaches Cafe opens doors at former Eastown deli

Located at the former home of Eastown Deli at 410 Ethel SE, a new eatery has opened its doors in the heart of Eastown. 

Peaches Café will serve customers healthy wrapped sandwiches with a Mediterranean flair, inspired by owner Hossein Sadat's background as a native Iranian. 

Currently, the diner is testing out a temporary menu for its soft opening phase that includes roast beef and chicken wraps or salads, all featuring Persian, Syrian and Turkish influences and spices. A full menu, including entrees and vegetarian options, will be available soon. 

Sandwiches are priced at $8.50 and come with rice, and Sadat says future entrees will likely be $10 or under.

Peaches Cafe is currently offering lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. with the exception of Mondays. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor

Goodwill's upscale thrift shop Blue gets a brand reboot with new Eastown store

A few months after outgrowing its 800-square-foot MoDiv incubator retail space, the Goodwill upscale boutique formerly called Blue has reopened its doors in Eastown, with new inventory and a new name to match its brand reboot.

Located at 1423 Lake Dr., Re-Blue is essentially an evolution of the former Blue, which joined the Grand Rapids marketplace in 2012 as only the second location nationwide of the Goodwill Industries brainchild. 

Jill Wallace is chief of marketing and communications at Goodwill and says Re-Blue’s new 1,700-square-foot Eastown space allows them to carry a much larger selection of designer apparel, accessories and home goods — including a new dedicated men’s section — than it could with its limited start-up floor space.

Created as a revenue stream by the nonprofit to help fund job training, placement and employment retention programs in the area, Re-Blue exists in the same spirit of second chances as its parent organization. 

However, unlike Goodwill, Re-Blue is armed with an inventory that is a much more deliberate curation of eclectic, vintage-inspired finds. And though Wallace says a good chunk of the jewelry and some of the home decor for sale there are brand new items, the bulk of Re-Blue’s sales are for clothing and accessories salvaged from one of Goodwill’s 17 West Michigan stores. 

“We’re coining it as ‘His, hers, and home,’ but we have an entire section of men's items here, which we didn’t have at the MoDiv,” Wallace says. “We have a much larger section of home goods and the items are more eclectic. It’s got a vintage appeal.”

She said the eclectic Re-Blue brand sort of inherently aligns with the Eastown lifestyle and aesthetic, whose younger population champions individualism and has an appreciation for the nostalgia of vintage-inspired garb.   

“What we hope for is that we see this in other markets. Maybe it’s a little different in each market, but obviously every demographic has a life of its own and this will have a life of its own,” Wallace says. “It might look a little different if it were in Cascade or Rockford, but here in Eastown this model works really well.” 

Visit Re-Blue Boutique on Facebook for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor 
Images courtesy of Re-Blue/Goodwill

Ribbon cutting kicks off opening of new GR Home for Veterans outdoor amphitheater

Alongside partners at the nonprofit Finish the Mission Veteran Relief Fund, the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans held a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the rebirth of an outdated 1970s-era band shell at its 3000 Monroe Ave. NE campus after nearly six months of extensive renovations.  

Originally built in 1976, Finish the Mission Board of Directors Chairman Thomas Antor says rebuilding the old, crumbling structure was a top priority for organization leaders at GRHV, who haven’t been able to factor funding the renovation into the budget for nearly two decades.

“I made a commitment that it would be our number one goal to replace that structure, regardless of how much money we raised during the Freedom Cruise, we would make it happen,” says Antor, a Kent County commissioner whose nonprofit organization works to generate revenue through its week-long annual West Michigan Freedom Cruise. 

“These guys love music, that's the one thing they all love probably more than anything else,” he says. “There’s one guy named James there and he sits down there everyday. I call him the Centurion because he's always down there. A lot of these guys watched this being built — it gives them something to take pride in. They feel like they’re a part of it.” 

With a brand new electrical system for maximum sound capability and clusters of large oak trees surrounding the lawn to shade concert goers, Antor says the amphitheater is now armed with capabilities that extend to enhance the other events GRHV hosts there each year such as its Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies, fish fry, and family carnival.

GRHV will operate the new venue, which is open to the larger public to come and see performances, as well as rent out the space for others to host their own events. 

The new amphitheater was dedicated to Antor’s father, WWII vet and former resident Gerald Albert Antor — a small display of gratitude to both the man himself and the work Finish the Mission Veteran Relief Fund does for veterans in Grand Rapids through its annual West Michigan Freedom Cruise event in June. 

“100 percent of proceeds from the event — every dime of it — goes back to West Michigan vets,” Antor says. “There are no administrative costs, because there are no paid positions here, we’re all volunteers.”

Antor says proceeds from this years’ event are earmarked for an even bigger undertaking than an amphitheater — the 49-bed GRHV solarium where over 90 percent of the residents can rarely leave the unit due to special needs, and require one-on-one supervision if they do. 

“That project is way, way overdue,” he says, adding that the current building is less of a home and more of an “institution” due to it the crumbling Civil War-era infrastructure

“If we're gonna call it a veterans home, let’s rebuild it from the ground up and give it those features,” he says. “Let’s make it warmer and friendlier and help them rebuild their rooms so it feels more like a home and less like an institution.” 

Some say it’s a bit of a lofty goal, but Antor says that’s exactly what they were going for.  

“We set the goals really high because that keeps the fire lit underneath us and we're going to do everything we can to get that done,” he says. 

For more information on the West Michigan Freedom Cruise and Finish the Mission Veterans Relief Fund, visit www.freedomcruise.net. 

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Orion Construction Co. 

Terryberry announces $2.6M renovation project, plans to add 53 new jobs with MSF training grant

Grand Rapids-based firm Terryberry announced a $2.6 million expansion project last week that will help the provider of employee recognition programs and custom awards renovate, expand and add 53 new jobs at its 2033 Oak Industrial Drive NE manufacturing facility. 

"We had hired a lot of individuals last year here in Grand Rapids and in other locations," says Mike Byam, fourth-generation managing partner at Terryberry. "We started adding some roles in earnest back in March – we've got 10 full-time positions already this year, and my guess is it'll be at least that many if not twice as many prior to the end of the year and then the remaining hires in the balance." 

To help offset the costs required to train new hires for mostly full-time positions in skilled designers, custom jewelry craftsmen, IT developers and sales professionals, Terryberry partnered with local economic developers The Right Place, Inc. and state partners from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to receive approval for a $250,000 Michigan Strategic Fund.

Byam says having the training program in place will help equip West Michigan jobseekers with talents that are often difficult to find in West Michigan. 

"In our business, specifically in West Michigan, certainly from a manufacturing standpoint, a big element of our business is the jewelry manufacturing – the custom emblems we use to symbolize awards, championship-style rings both for business and schools that have had success – and it's just really difficult to find people in West Michigan with those types of skills already."

Terryberry, alongside contractors AJ Veneklasen, expects to break ground in July on a renovation project that will bring the Grand Rapids headquarters from 47,000 to 53,000 square feet upon its late 2015 completion. Included in the renovation are the addition of a second story, increased office space, new machinery, an employee commons and other team member amenities.

However, Byam said the main focus of the expansion is to create more manufacturing space, though some upgraded amenities for staff will only be an added bonus as Terryberry's brand continues to expand both domestically and overseas. 

"The software side of things has been a real terrific platform for Terryberry to export, because it's a web-based solution and you're able to better assist global organizations because so many of our clients have locations outside of the United States," he says. "Through that, we see certainly in developed nations, our business really continues to grow within those countries as well, especially Europe."

By Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Terryberry, Inc.

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Grand Rapids-based Terryberry greets 2015 with projected job creation

Happy Cat Cafe works to establish home in Grand Rapids

With over 2,600 likes on its Facebook page in just three days, the future Happy Cat Cafe is finally garnering the kind of public support it needs for entrepreneur Kati Palmurkar to create one here in in Grand Rapids. 

“It’s all large cities that opened cafes so far, but I know with Grand Rapids' focus on helping local small businesses, our tight-knit community could support this revolutionary idea,” Palmurkar says.  “I had to make a website in 24 hours just so I had somewhere to direct the traffic and give people more information. It seems like the cafe is something that people have been waiting for.” 

Palmurkar says the concept of a cat cafe grew in Japan and Taiwan in the '90s, with over 100 cafes in Tokyo alone. The space is half normal cafe, half “all-out cat room” - so, customers can order an espresso and a bagel from the non-cat area and then spend time playing or sitting with cats in a connected storefront. 

Palmurkar says she’s looking to feature local bakeries and coffee roasters, and already has plans to partner with local shelters to promote pet adoption, though the actual location is not 100 percent firm quite yet.

“This cafe is a partnership between so many parts of the Grand Rapids Community, and will be an oasis for animal lovers,” she says. “Why would you stop in at a normal cafe, when you can stop into our cafe and know that everything you purchase is benefiting the families cultivating the fair trade coffee, and the cats that will get a second chance at a forever home in the cafe, and is sustainability minded and cares deeply about our environment?” 

Palmurkar says she’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign soon to raise funds for redevelopment of a space, but thinks Happy Cat Cafe has a bright future in Grand Rapids. 

“I believe in the triple bottom line, people (and cats), planet, and profits,” she says. “Everything we do is to enrich the lives of the people and animals in the Grand Rapids community, and make our little corner of the world a little bit brighter — the whole ‘think globally, act locally’ has always been in my heart.” 

Visit Happy Cat Cafe on Facebook for more information. 

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Happy Cat Cafe 
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